The role and function of humour in the EFL class: from “Ha, ha!” to “Aha!” #ELTchat Summary 26/01/2012

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The role and function of humour in the EFL class: from “Ha, ha!” to “Aha!” #ELTchat Summary 26/01/2012


The first #ELTchat had humour in the ELT class as its main topic and I am really happy that David Dodgson offered to write this great summary which was first posted on David’s blog, Reflections of a Teacher and a Learner. David is@DaveDodgson on Twitter.




The role and function of humour in the EFL class: from “Ha, ha!” to “Aha!”


Possibly one of the most difficult aspects of a foreign language to get to grips with is humour. Word plays, double meanings, intonation, setting and aspects of culture all have an impact on whether a situation is viewed as ‘funny’ or not and deciphering all the clues can be difficult. Why, sometimes we fail to see the funny side of things said by other native speakers of our own language so asking the students to do the same is asking a lot!


However, a life without humour is a dull one and so is a lesson without humour. How can we incorporate humour into the classroom setting? And how can we ensure that it’s not just for a cheap laugh but a way to encourage learning? That was the topic of the early session of ELTchat on Twitter earlier today (26th January) and I will now attempt to summarise some of the key points.



A-maze-ing laughter: Image by weezerthewonderful

Why use humour in class? How?


One of the points discussed was what benefits humour can have in the classroom and how best to utilise it beyond mere jokes. Some of the key tweets were as follows:

  • Humour can be tricky across different cultures, but can usually always use visual humour – funny pics etc.
  • To help engage & build rapport, humour though is v important as a teacher.
  • Humour is best when spontaneous. Prepped jokes (esp. coursebook ones) rarely go down well.
  • Humour is a key element in developing classroom cohesion.
  • Humour helps to lower the affective filter – helps learners to relax.
  • Highet in his famous book “The Art of Teaching” says humour is one of the most important qualities of a good teacher.
  • So humour serves to make ‘boring’ things funny, just by exposing their strangeness.
  • Humour can be a good way of connecting with YL’s & getting them ‘on side’.
  • If teacher shows he/she can laugh at him/herself, then learners feel more able to do so too.
  • Humour enables teachers and students to understand each other better.
  • Humour reduces anxiety.and also grammar taught thru humour is learnt better…
  • Laughing together about something+recalling that moment later are important moment’s in the biography of a class.
  • Humor used as a pedagogical tool can boost sts’ interested in more difficult subjects and promote engagement.
  • Laughing is good for you in general so should be encouraged in class.
  • Humor should be a given with young children, but surprisingly many people don’t use it.
  • Laughter and humour reduces social distance between students and teachers
  • Humorous breaks during a lesson promote learning by allowing the brain a “breather” to process

Ideas for the classroom involving humour


There were several ideas tweeted during the session about specific activities that could be done in class ranging from exaggerated actions and drama to using authentic video clips. Here are some of the main tweets:


  • Pretending things have happened to you … winning lottery, spraining an ankle…have used these to great effect with teens.
  • With very YLs I fall over in class all the time, esp. when doing “can/can’t” – Can I ride a bike? Try to and then fall off.
  • I often pretend I don’t understand something obvious – get the kids to explain it to me & get some laughs as well.
  • I always use cartoons and comic strips w my sts. 1 of the best activities is to teach phrasal verbs with them. Sts learn and have fun.
  • Lower levels – short video clips…esp. funny commercials..easy to understand and follow.
  • Advantage with comedy videos to me are the ease with which you can select a very small piece, esp. in a sketch show
  • Nonsense sentences for tongue twisters with YLs with pics to illustrate!
  • I get them to write crazy nonsensical dialogs and sentences – teens love it and laugh a lot .
  • The best jokes in my classes are the ones students themselves come up with by playfully using their language skills.
  • Turning coursebook dialogues into complete nonsense also gets a good laugh – plus it’s great for playing with language
  • With adults I make up absurd role-plays to get them talking.
  • Trying different voices and personalities in roleplaying – lots of fun and lots of language learning
  • With FCE/CAE we write absurd letters of complaints (and mix them with slang expressions
  • Asking mad questions YL love it, e.g. do you like spider cookies? is your neighbour a superman
  • Funny mistakes in signs can be a good way of teaching spelling, grammar, etc. – get learners to correct
  • When teaching pronunciation I often exaggerate and make funny faces – with adults and kids.
  • When I have kids up at the front of the class, I often sit in one of their chairs & act like one of the students. Good for rapport
  • One funny game is “sausages” where the answer to every question must be “sausages” and no-one is allowed to laugh
  • I rewrite familiar stories and then include humorous twists – the unexpected is also a trick to catch their attention
  • I’ve used Photoshop to put student heads on famous bodies for description lessons
  • Get them draw few cards, randomly, from a pack of REALLY various vocab, use them all to create a story…funny storytelling
  • I always like the idea of getting sts to search for puns and have them explain both meanings to class. We laugh a lot!

Potential problems


As with any tool we use in class, there is the potential for the teacher’s attempts to use it to go wrong. Considerations of cultural differences, appropriacy, the learners’ level and class clowns getting out of hand were all discussed. And then, there is the fact that some things just aren’t that funny to begin with…


  • Jokes are harder/ more problematic sometimes bec of sensitivities, understanding etc.
  • Think CB jokes are often forced “we need to have a joke in this listening. What should we do?”
  • One problem is the play on words – students have to know multiple meanings to get CB jokes.
  • Telling jokes well difficult even amongst L1 users – pause, etc.…crucial not easy for L2 learners.
  • Jokes take a lot of labouring to explain and are not particularly productive in terms of student-talk levels
  • Perhaps the worst project i ever did was getting Ss to choose a joke,learn how to tell it & deliver it. Painfully unfunny.
  • After going through intonation, pronunciation, and WHY = not funny for anyone any more!
  • Laughing at mistakes is okay if st making mistake is laughing too, otherwise can be humiliating, takes time to get feel for this.
  • Is there such a thing as “too much” humor in class? Sure it’s good in doses but can it become too much?
  • Sometimes the class joker takes over…
  • Be careful with giggly teens who lose control and the class will be spent laughing about nothing
  • Some ‘funny’ teachers also over-rely on their ‘charisma’ and forget the teaching bit!!
  • Trying to be funny can lead to being seen as a show-off – true for students AND teachers

Resources and links


The following links to articles, blog posts and resources were tweeted during the chat:


If you want to check out the full transcript from today’s chat, you can find it here.


And now for something completely different…


Seeing as classic British comedy shows such as Mr Bean, Fawlty Towers and Monty Python were mentioned during the chat, here’s one from those Python boys which I’m sure language teachers will like:


by David Dodgson

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Image from Pixabay  CC0 Creative Commons